On the Side
Jen Jones is a freelance writer and certified BalleCore instructor in Los Angeles. Her website is www.creative-groove.net.
Looking to generate more revenue at your studio? Provide added value to your clientele? Opening a side business onsite just might be a win-win situation. From cafés to retail shops, there are many options that give students and their families convenient access to services or products they may sorely need—and that put extra money in your bank account. Get inspired by these three success stories from studio owners who’ve found solutions that work.
West Hollywood, CA
Side business: Pilates studio
Located behind trendy TRAIN gym in the heart of L.A.’s West Hollywood district, Studio Soma merges owner Thalia Thomas’ two passions: dance and Pilates. The first floor houses Pilates equipment and a reception area, while a spacious dance studio occupies the second floor. “I wanted to target young dancers who weren’t getting taught injury prevention,” says Thomas. “I thought, ‘How wonderful would it be if they could go downstairs and have a form of physical therapy?’ It’s a wonderful synergy.”
In business since September 2005, Studio Soma offers private Pilates training and classes in aerobic dance, ballet, burlesque and Pilates mat. To garner interest in both sides of the business, Thomas has employed creative marketing techniques. “The winning ticket has been selling a package that is good for anything on the schedule,” she says. “I’ve scheduled different types of classes back-to-back—why not stay two hours and take dance at 6 and Pilates at 7?”
Thomas’ methods have evidently been effective. Due to high demand, she plans on relocating the studio to a larger space within the year. Looking back, she says patience has been the secret to her success: “My ideas were so big that I needed to take baby steps at first. When you add too much too quickly, nothing sticks. Give new classes and concepts time to grow. Each baby step will bring you closer and closer to your vision.”
Words of Wisdom
- Hire multi-talented instructors. Many of Thomas’ dance teachers are also certified Pilates instructors. “Dancers like coming to a place like this because we are all trained dancers,” says Thomas, who studied at Australia’s Sydney Dance Company School. “They feel comfortable because we can simulate the ballet barre on the Reformer and use dance terminology to explain the movements.”
- Reach out to loyal clientele to raise funds. Buying Pilates equipment can be a hefty initial investment, so Thomas enlisted the support of trusted customers as a form of fundraising. “I suggest reaching out to long-time clients who have already invested money and time in you,” she says. “Share your business plan and your vision, and see if they might be interested [in contributing].”
Leap Above Dance
Side business: retail shop
After opening her studio’s doors in 2001, Natalie Nemeckay quickly realized that the families patronizing her business had one thing in common: They needed a local dance retail shop. “We’re in a smaller community with at least a 30-minute drive to the nearest dance store,” she says. “I wanted it to be convenient for dancers to get what they needed for class.”
Once Nemeckay decided to open a store onsite, serendipity stepped in. A local antique shop donated an old countertop, and she found a well-priced clothing rack at Goodwill. Initially, Nemeckay erred on the side of practicality, offering limited store hours and carrying only the tights and shoes required for recital season. As interest grew, she expanded the store’s offerings to leotards, jazz pants and custom logowear. “It would have been really overwhelming to stock everything right away,” she recalls. “By starting small, it wasn’t a major expense and we could place orders as needed.”
Today, A Leap Above Dance’s retail store has expanded into a 10′ x 24′ space near the studio’s entrance, and Nemeckay is pleased with its progress. “Though the store isn’t our major source of profit, it definitely helps,” she says. “It’s been a really positive addition to our studio.”
Words of Wisdom
- Do your homework. When getting started, research your state’s required paperwork and selling permits. You may also have to file quarterly taxes depending on the store’s projected volume.
- Use creative methods to attract customers. Along with clothing, show DVDs and recital tickets are available only from inside the shop. Nemeckay has also found success with logo apparel: “They see our store as a resource; it’s the only place they can get T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing our studio’s name!”
- Encourage teachers to moonlight. “When our teachers have a one- or two-hour break, they’ll use that to work in the store,” says Nemeckay. “They make great salespeople, and they know how things should fit.”
Dance Conservatory of McAllen
Side business: snack bar/café
Shortage of activity is hardly a problem at the Dance Conservatory of McAllen, which offers a wide spectrum of dance classes, from ballet to tumbling and bellydance, for all ages. “We attract everyone from 3 year olds to senior citizens,” says owner Edward Pequeño, adding that the studio’s client base has grown to 120 students since opening in late 2006.
In response to demand from this burgeoning clientele, Pequeño is now in the process of opening an onsite café that will offer healthy snacks and beverages to studio patrons. “We noticed a lot of parents sitting in the lobby waiting for their children, as well as dancers who would come to the studio starving after school,” says Pequeño. “Opening a snack bar was a no-brainer.”
Remodeling is currently in progress to make way for the café, and Pequeño envisions the final product as not only a place to get grub but to gather. A small stage will be incorporated into the café’s lounge area for students to dance, sing or read poetry, while large television monitors will be installed for parents to watch classes in session.
Words of Wisdom
- Keep it simple. The studio’s menu will offer only premade items such as sandwiches, fruits and protein snacks, as Pequeño sees no need for a fully functioning kitchen. (Machines will also be on hand for whipping up smoothies and cappuccinos.) “When cooking hot items, you must meet a lot of city requirements—such as fire permits, grease traps and different types of sinks,” says Pequeño. “I don’t think students and parents are looking to dine, but rather to get healthy snacks in a convenient place.”
- Staff wisely. To assist with the café’s launch, Pequeño has enlisted managers with previous experience at Starbucks and similar chains. Though it may be more budget-friendly to hire students to run the café, Pequeño advises against doing so—at least at first. “It’s too much of a liability,” he says. DT